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The Oakland Homicide Rate is Not All That Sudden or Unique

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Oakland is experiencing an alarming spike in violent crimes. The city recorded 15 homicides in the first month of 2021, a stark contrast from the one murder in all of January 2020.

Tuesday, the Oakland Police Department released ShotSpotter for the last week of January, reflecting a 137 percent increase in year-to-date activations. In total, there have been 43 gunfire incidents since the beginning of the new year.

A homicide rate that increases 1400 percent from one year to the next is obviously cause for concern, as represented in a flood of headlines drawing attention to the issue. In response, the city’s Ceasefire Team has been meeting with Mayor Libby Schaaf’s office and police are offering $10,000 rewards for information leading to arrests in homicide cases. 

While unsettling, the phenomenon is not entirely sudden and definitely not unique to Oakland, as was highlighted by OPD in a press release issued in August. In the release, police said:

“Austin, Denver, Nashville, and San Antonio are among the nation’s major cities witnessing a dramatic spike in homicides. The city of Oakland has also experienced an unsettling rise in violent crime recently.” 

According to NPR, the 2020 Chicago homicide rate was up 50 percent from the previous year — New York saw an increase of 40 percent and Los Angeles was up by 30 percent.

The Oakland Police Officers’ Association is capitalizing on the January data as a way to push back against “defund” efforts, blaming the rise in violent crime on police reform measures just now being rolled out in several cities nationwide. 

Oakland Police Officers’ Association President Barry Donelan said:

“As homicides increase, Oakland’s police officer numbers have decreased and the City Council has embraced a ‘defund the police’ strategy that is accelerating the city’s already high violent crime rate.”  

However, the OPOA narrative fails to acknowledge why violent crimes steadily increased throughout 2020 — they avoid talking about the natural correlation between economic distress and crime rates.  

The pandemic has created an unprecedented economic crisis and diminished opportunities. At every similar point in history, the crime rate trends up, as was seen in 2009 during the height of the last recession. The situation is even further compounded by the isolation, boredom and frustration served up on society by a pandemic that’s kept a large portion of people largely locked up and unemployed for nearly one year.

Those circumstances are far more responsible for the rise in criminal activity than police reform efforts sparked into action after the summer of civic unrest. 

The recipe for reversing the crime trend in Oakland and across the nation really lies in mitigation of the virus and a quick and robust economic recovery so that people can get back to work, pay their bills and again see opportunities for success. Until then, we can expect more of the same.

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.